Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Saturday, November 29, 2014

New U of M Power Plant on the River

The University of Minnesota has applied for an air emissions permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in order to construct a new “Combined Heat and Power Plant” using the building adjacent to the Education Sciences Building and the Dinkytown Greenway Bridge on the East Bank. In order to do so they have completed an Environmental Assessment Worksheet. The MPCA took public comment on the Environmental Assessment Worksheet through November 26; and will be taking comment on the air emissions permit through December 1, 2014. According to the University the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Plant will provide the Minneapolis campus with power and steam, and reduce overall utility costs by up to $2 million per year and will reduce the University's net carbon footprint by an estimated 65,000 metric tons of CO2 by efficiently using "waste" heat from generating electricity.  The steam will be used to heat campus buildings and for sterilizing equipment in the labs and University of Minnesota Medical Center hospitals and clinics. I was glad to learn that the Power Plant is to be fueled by natural gas. It will become the primary utility for the Minneapolis campus and the University's Southeast Steam Plant, at 600 Main Street SE, will become the secondary source of steam, as a back-up to the new facility. Two aging coal-fired boilers at the Southeast Steam Plant will be eliminated.

While the MPCA alone, and not the city, has the authority to require a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), anyone can comment. I submitted the following comments to the MPCA 

First I want to recognize many potential benefits of this project. If it indeed replaces inefficient and unreliable 1940s-era coal burners, moves the University away from the burning of coal and towards its long-term climate action plan goals of reducing the campus carbon footprint by half by 2020, and reaching climate neutrality by 2050, this is significant and positive. I am also encouraged to learn that it will help reduce the University’s net carbon footprint by an estimated 65,000 metric tons of CO2 and that it will restore an old 100 year old building that has sat largely vacant for more than a decade.

I also have three general concerns that I would like to note and make sure get considered as the process moves forward. 

The proximity to the Mississippi is unfortunate and regrettable. While historically the riverbank has been industrial the trend in recent decades has been to move away from industrial and to improving public access to the river.  This portion of the river represents an area where there is very limited public access. Accommodations for trails and access would be appreciated. Additionally, we have worked hard in recent years to improve water quality of the river. This project could present an opportunity to improve water quality with better management practices. More added rain gardens and thought full landscaping could accommodate this.

Secondly, I am concerned about air quality. I want to ensure that we are taking into consideration the cumulative effects of adding this facility in this area that has historically been home to many polluting businesses as well as the specific impacts it may have on neighboring residential housing, including a densely populated area across the river. Additionally, as the federal clean air standards change, and become more stringent, I want to be sure we work hard to prevent new projects like this from making it more difficult for Minneapolis to reach that standard. The average for the Metro region from 2011-2013 is 67 ppb.  Depending on the final standard, we will already either be in non-attainment or very close.  Let’s work to make sure new projects help us move towards cleaner air.

Finally, I am concerned that the time allotted for comments was insufficient. I would ask that it be extended to allow community stakeholders, including city staff, additional time to review this project. I realize that if an EIS is required there will be more time for comments on that and that the air permit also needs review, but more time for comments on the EAW might also be beneficial, especially if an full EIS is not drafted. 

I know that some neighborhoods have already weighed in and it will be interesting to see what comments have been generated so far.   


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